Archive 75

Hal Greer

By Todd Spehr·

The greatest diminutive scorers in league history. The most influential co-pilots on the best teams ever. The all-time Sixers list. When basketball scholars sit at their desks and take out their quills to craft each of the above lists, one name is a prerequisite: Hal Greer.

If the name does not immediately evoke greatness, then please, take a seat, and allow yourself to absorb the following Greer factoids. In an era when skepticism surrounded the impact of smaller players, Greer, at just 6-foot-2, scored more than 21,000 career points, a plateau no one of similar dimensions had ever approached. It takes on greater significance when you realize that it wasn’t until 2007 that another player Greer’s size or smaller -- Allen Iverson -- reached 20,000 points. When Greer retired in 1973, no player in league history had appeared in more games. And when looking at the record books of one of the sport’s proudest franchises -- the Sixers, nee the Nationals -- it is Greer’s name that is peppered throughout, in many instances first in a great deal of the major categories.

Greer, in his or any era, was a great guard. The numbers are fine, they tell us a story. But not the total story. Here is the eye test.

 

How good was Greer? Where on the floor did he get his points? When did he reach his peak? Somehow, in the span of just 15 seconds, one of the greatest coaches ever, Alex Hannum, delivers the answers.

Consider the greatness of the 1967 Sixers. They won 46 of their first 50 games. They set a record for wins in a single season with 68. Facing Boston -- the winners of the past eight titles -- in the Eastern Division finals, they simply crushed them. The championship series against San Francisco was a formality and upon its completion, these Sixers -- deep and powerful -- were officially sworn in as one of history’s greatest teams.

Wilt Chamberlain, whose career was bookended by a period of unmatched offense and an uncommon dedication to defense, found a special symmetry in 1967: Balanced all-court domination. And though flanked by Luke Jackson and Chet Walker up front, Chamberlain’s main source of support came from the backcourt. With a team-leading 27.7 ppg in the postseason, Greer was never better than he was that spring. And if a title was ever going to be won in Philadelphia, Chamberlain and Greer would need to lead the way in overthrowing Boston. In Game 1 of the championship series, it was Greer who delivered the ultimatum in the form of 39 points.

By halftime of the 1968 All-Star Game in New York, Greer had played just five minutes, scoring once from the field. In this his eighth All-Star appearance (he played in 10), his career in the mid-season classic had produced typically consistent results. Hannum, his East squad ahead just 64-59 and in need of a spark, opted to start Greer for the second half. It proved prophetic. Greer went out and broke the All-Star record for points in a quarter, scoring 19, including a destructive 174-second spurt (before diving for the calculator, that’s a mere 2:54!) where he erupted for 14 consecutive points.

By game’s end, a national TV audience enjoying the first All-Star Game ever broadcast in color, looked on as Greer received the trophy for Most Valuable Player. Yes, 21 points in 17 minutes. Here is the footage.

Greer, with a lethal middle-distance jumper and excellent driving ability, was capable of piling up points quickly and efficiently. His jumper was so deadly in fact that when he stepped to the free-throw line -- where lifetime he hit at an 80% clip -- he leapt when he shot there, too.

Consistency was Greer’s badge of honor, eight times averaging more than 20 points per game, topping out at 24.1 ppg during the title defense of 1968.

Need we remind you that, in the 1960s, smaller guards were a step removed from novelty; those who played were expected to carry the ball and set up the offense. So when grasping the concept of Greer, one must understand this: He was the original prototype for the mini, score-first dynamos that followed behind.

There’s no better illustration of this than going back to the video. Hidden away in the vault was this 1965 game between the Sixers and the Knicks.

Greer scores 38 points, but that’s not the takeaway here, he did that a lot. Watch the manner with which it’s done. Greer scores in the half-court, on the break, from distance, from inside.

There was no weakness in his offensive game and this glorious film is the proof.

 

From 1958 to 1973, from Syracuse to Philadelphia, Greer was always there. Yet despite the obvious acclaim and building himself into one of the franchise’s greatest guards, he always seemed to be fighting for his notoriety. On seven occasions he was second-team All-NBA, this at a time when Oscar Robertson and Jerry West were permanent first-team residents. On that famed 1967 champion, Chamberlain was the story, having finally climbed the mountain, having finally gotten past Bill Russell.

You could argue that the ultimate revenge, the permanent remedy for this would be an eternal reminder -- a statue. And indeed in 2017, Greer was so honored. The beautiful irony is now he will forever be as he once was as a player – always there. Others spoke for him at the ceremony that day, so unaccustomed and uncomfortable with the glare that greatness bestows. Now, at Sixers base, hidden in plain sight amongst immortals, he deservedly becomes one.

We will exit the same way we came in when exploring Greer, with visual testament, this time sprinkling in contemporary praise of the weighty variety. He will forever remain a curiosity the further removed his career becomes; the all-time points leader of a storied franchise, and one of the leaders on the greatest teams ever. Greer’s legacy and impact will stand alone.